K. Marie

Officer Darrell Shaw’s 24 years with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) have been marred with violence.

In 2005, Shaw and two other police officers shot and killed a homeless man who they say lunged at them with a knife. In 2006, Shaw was accused of slamming an intoxicated woman’s head against his patrol car—she was later convicted for spitting on Shaw after he knocked her to the ground. In 2010, Shaw used a Taser on a college student exiting a nightclub, claiming the 21-year-old had interfered with an arrest. In 2011, a former PPB recruit testified that Shaw beat a teenage shoplifter to a bloody pulp for “mouthing off.” According to a report by the Portland Tribune, Shaw’s violent arrests sent no fewer than eight civilians to the hospital between the fall of 2004 and 2006.

The cycle continued on March 8, when Shaw and Officer Joseph Webber fired their guns at a woman who appeared to be burglarizing a home in Goose Hollow. Only after the officers hit her in the hand and leg did the suspect, Sarah Michelle Brown, return fire with a handgun, missing both officers. Brown spent four days in the hospital recovering from her injuries.

Following the incident, Shaw and Webber were placed on paid administrative leave for two weeks—the amount of time it took a grand jury to decide both officers were right to use deadly force against the 26-year-old woman. The same grand jury indicted Brown on 26 counts of attempted aggravated murder, unlawful use of a weapon, theft, burglary, and reckless endangerment.

According to PPB, Shaw will soon return to patrolling Portland’s streets—which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Only once has the city been held responsible for Shaw’s behavior—resulting in a $110,000 payout to the college student who sued the city after Shaw tasered him in 2010. From the public’s perspective, it was the city, not Shaw, who was punished for his misconduct.

When cops like Shaw are routinely cleared by a grand jury yet continue to send civilians to the ER, it’s difficult not to question the grand jury process.

According to Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, the problem lies with the prosecutors who guide the grand jury’s decision- making. As in most county courts, prosecutors with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office conduct grand juries behind closed doors, and are solely responsible for providing juries with fair evidence and witness testimony.

Rarely are transcripts from grand jury decisions on cop-involved shootings made public when the victim lives—the only recent instance was in October, when an officer was found justified in his use of force after shooting and critically wounding a burglary suspect. However, four times in that transcript, Deputy District Attorney Brian Davidson is quoted asking the court reporter to go “off the record” with the jury—leaving gaps in the official record.

In the past, Portland grand juries almost always agree with the district attorney that there’s enough evidence to indict a suspect and take the case to court. Unless that suspect is a cop.

Nearly every time a Portland officer who has shot a civilian faces a grand jury, they walk free. The only exception came in 2013, when Officer Dane Reister was fired for wounding a man after mistakenly firing lethal rounds from a beanbag shotgun. Reister was found dead of apparent suicide two years after his firing—a memory that undoubtedly hangs over a grand jury decision when an officer’s career is on the line.

Handelman says this cop-protecting trend underscores a “clear conflict of interest” between the district attorney’s office and the police.

“The DA needs to work with police every single day to prosecute cases,” he says. “They need to stay on the cops’ good side.” A solution, he says, is getting an outside prosecutor (like a team from the attorney general’s office) involved in both investigating officer shootings and presenting cases to a jury.

“[PPB] will say it’s too complicated,” Handelman adds. “But this is negligence.”

As reported by the Mercury last September, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill has acknowledged the flaws in the grand jury system, announcing plans to replace closed-door grand juries with more transparent preliminary hearings and public transcripts. [“Local Prosecutors Are About to Scrap Secretive Grand Juries,” News, Sept 20, 2017.] At the time, Underhill said that by the middle of 2018, 80 percent of county felony cases will go straight to preliminary hearings—a major win for advocates of open records.

But there’s one type of felony case that won’t get the same treatment. Cases that involve human victims that appear too “sensitive” for a public stage will still be handled in a secretive grand jury trial—in other words, every case where an officer may have inappropriately used force on a civilian.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that transcripts from grand jury decisions on cop-involved shootings were rarely made public. That's wrong—we've sourced many of those transcripts in past reporting. What we meant to say: few transcripts have been made public when the civilian shot survives. Those cases are far less accessible to the public. We've made the correction above, but regret the error.